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On a sweltering summer day as the temperatures in Ashland approached 90 degrees, parents brought their children to Maslowski Beach to cool off in the waters of Chequamegon Bay.
For kids splashing about in the water, the start of school on Sept. 1 seemed like a distant prospect, but for their moms and dads, the risks brought on by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic are very real.
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the School District of Ashland is still trying to work out how to educate students safely in the face of a nationwide resurgence of the disease.
"I want the kids to be safe. I want them to get their education, but I wish it would be easier on the parents somehow," said Leisha Kramolis of Ashland, whose two children, Logan, 8 and Lilly, 9, are both students in the district.
Kramolis said that when children were abruptly sent home this spring as schools closed because of the virus, life became "very challenging" because both she and her husband Russell have full time jobs.
Those circumstances leave her and hundreds of other parents torn as fall looms on the horizon. They want their kids back in classrooms and working with teachers, but they also see the virus surging across the country and fear for their kids' safety.
The school district now is asking parents for their views on restarting classes in survey sent to every student's home throughout the district.
If Kramolis's observations are any indication, district officials have a tough job ahead of them.
"I am in between about it," she said. "Of course, I don't want to see them get sick at all. I foresee masks being required, but good luck with that, they are not going to leave them on. We really don't
know how to deal with this on a daily basis. It's all new for everybody."
Katie Lipka of Marengo, who also has two children, Brea, 8, and Aila 6, headed back to class, is a bit more sanguine about what lies ahead.
"I would love for them to be able to go back to school," she said. "It is an issue but I am not stressed about it. It's (coronavirus) not even in the area right now and it's not hitting kids hard."
Lipka appreciates the district's efforts to gather input from parents. The parents with whom she's spoken all want to see their kids return to classrooms in September. But if a resurgence of the virus means classes can't resume and children again have to learn from home, she can deal with it.
"It would be a disappointment, but it is doable," she said.
The district's survey is an effort to understand the needs of district families, said School Superintendent Erik Olson. The survey was sent May 25 and already has produced more than 700 responses, he said.
"That is phenomenal. It speaks to the community's parents. It tells me that they are invested and want to share their experiences," Olson said. As a result of the survey, several parents have volunteered to join the district's planning committee for school reopening, and Olson welcomes their help.
"We have a tight timeline; our goal is to have this plan released by the first week in August, and our hope is to get it in front of Olson the board by July 13 as a preliminary draft and to have the board be able to put their blessing on it by July 27. It's a lot of work in a short period of time, but we have a quality team and a community that is committed to doing the work and I am encouraged by it."
The survey itself asks parents how they rated their experience in learning at home this spring and parents' plans for their child's education — whether they plan to send their child to school or to continue with at-home learning. There are questions about transportation, about school meals and Internet availability from home. There were also questions about staggered attendance where, in order to maintain social distancing, school for an individual student would take place two days per week, or alternatively, attending every other week.
Olson said the option to send their children back to school was favored by 87% of those who have thus far responded; 13% have not yet responded or are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school.
"At this juncture, we are planning for kids to return to school," he said.
Returning to his hometown to work for the Ashland Police Department was a dream come true for Jim Gregoire, and he decided that it would be the last police department he ever would work for.
That vow was fulfilled Friday when Gregoire finished his final day as Ashland's top cop, capping 23 years of service with the APD.
"This is my hometown; I love this town, always have. I have always been drawn back to this town," he said.
Born in Ashland in 1969, Gregoire is a 1987 graduate of Ashland High School. Like many new high school graduates he wasn't entirely sure what he was going to do with his life.
"I had three options on the table. One was auto body repair, a second was psychology, and the third was to become a police officer," Gregoire said.
He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to study psychology with a criminal justice minor. After a year he transferred to UW-Superior where he graduated and took a job as an at-risk youth worker for the Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program.
After about three years, Gregoire had determined that a career in psychology wasn't for him. He saved his earnings to attend recruit law officer training at Chippewa Valley Technical College, graduating in 1994.
He eventually got a job as a police officer in Fitchburg, but after a year and a half, he heard of an opening in Ashland and was hired in March of 1997.
"I knew on the day I was hired that I was going to be a lifer here," he said.
As a rookie cop, he started out in patrol, roving the streets, responding to calls and writing reports. After about a year and a half, he moved to the position of investigator, and remained there for six years. He then went back to street patrol for two years before he was promoted to captain, a position he held for 10 years.
In 2015, then-Chief Greg Bebeau announced his retirement and Gregoire was appointed as his replacement by the Ashland Police and Fire Commission. Since becoming chief, Gregoire has had to preside over fallout from a number of cases, including police disciplinary matters in 2020, officer-involved shootings in 2019 and 2017, the handling of an investigation involving sexual assault in the Ashland County jail in 2017.
The latest has been a lawsuit filed against the city involving the arrest of a man who pointed a gun at children at the Ashland skate park. The suit charges that the arrest was unlawful because police entered the man's residence without a warrant. The suit was made public on June 16, around the time that Gregoire filed his retirement paperwork, leading to speculation that Gregoire was retiring because of the suit.
That is something that Gregoire denies.
"That happened in 2018," Gregoire said of the incident behind the lawsuit. "I knew it was going to happen."
Since the incident, after the Ashland County Circuit Court ruled the arrest was unlawful, Gregoire said he ordered online training in the Fourth Amendment which protects people from illegal searches and seizures.
"We have talked more about the Fourth Amendment than at any other time I can remember," he said.
The real reason for his retirement, Gregoire said, was the cumulative strain the constant stream of controversy that he's had to confront.
"I am becoming increasingly more edgy," he said. "My wife has noticed it, I have noticed it. It is not a good thing."
In addition, Gregoire said that the nature of police work is evolving. He said his efforts had been directed at being more proactive in dealing with drug houses and dealers, making stops on suspicious vehicles as a way of combating a meth and opioid addiction epidemic.
"In the last four years we have made more felony arrests than anyone can remember," he said.
However, in the last two months, the entire police system used in America has been under review and there are calls for drastic changes.
"I am not sure I am the guy to do that," he said.
Whatever the reason for Gregoire's retirement, Ashland mayor Debra Lewis says she will miss his presence as police chief.
"Jim is someone who is passionate about the community," she said. "Obviously he loves this place; it has formed him and he has served it for much of his adult life. In his words he has seen the best of it and the worst of it."
Lewis said Gregoire "starts from a place of great heart," and has done his job without flash and with hard work. She said he had worked hard to bring innovation into the department, noting that he had begun sending officers to crisis de-escalation training following the shooting of Jason Pero by an Ashland County sheriff's deputy in 2017.
"He started sending them quietly to training. He wasn't made to do that; he felt it was the right thing to do. I think Jim has always acted from a place of trying to do the right thing," she said.
Ashland Police and Fire Commission Chairman Gordon Gilbertson also said Gregoire had been a good chief.
"Police work now is getting tougher and tougher," he said. "Jim changed with the times and did a very outstanding job. Jim had some tough issues that he had to face and I think he did an outstanding job in dealing with them. He faced the challenges head-on."
Residents fear that the proposed reroute of Enbridge Energy Co.'s Line 5 pipeline threatens the climate, pristine waters and Native communities in northern Wisconsin — though some said it can be built safely and provide muchneeded jobs.
Around 360 people registered to provide input during a virtual public hearing Wednesday about the impact Line 5's new route would have on northern Wisconsin waterways as part of the hearing held by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on permits being considered for project. The pipeline carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario.
The Canadian energy firm is proposing a roughly 40-mile reroute outside the Bad River Reservation in Ashland and Iron counties. Enbridge is seeking to relocate the pipeline after the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed a lawsuit against the company aimed at shutting down and removing Line 5 from the tribe's reservation.
The company's preferred route runs south of the reservation and north of Mellen and is expected to cross more than 180 waterbodies and temporarily impact at least 109 acres of wetlands.
Cathryn Hanson, Enbridge's environmental supervisor, said in a media call prior to the hearing that the route is among four the company considered.
"Our route analysis really focused on minimizing the length of the pipeline to the extent practical, while protecting resources and still being responsive to landowner and community input," said Hanson.
The company's proposed route would still lie within the Bad River Watershed, which drains more than 1,000 square miles along the shore of Lake Superior. The Kakagon and Bad River sloughs — referred to as the "Everglades of the North" — lie at the mouth of the watershed, comprising around 16,000 acres of internationally recognized wetlands.
Hanson said the preferred route is about 60 miles shorter with fewer environmental impacts than the longest alternative route outside the watershed.
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins has said the tribe intends to fight to remove Line 5 from the region due to the significance of the watershed. Enbridge has offered the tribe a $30 million settlement, while Bad River has asked for $45 million for trespassing in addition to shutting down and removing the Line 5 from the Bad River watershed.
Public: pipeline threatens climate, Native communities
A majority of those who spoke, including residents from the region and across Wisconsin, voiced opposition to the project, taking issue with the continued transport of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. They highlighted more frequent, intense storms that have occurred in the region in recent years.
"This problem is superheating the planet's climate, causing mega storms, drought and floods, the melting of the polar icecaps, and our ability to live on this planet," said Amy Wilson of Port Wing. "We have 10 years to reduce our burning technology. Both frack gas and tar sands oil is a disaster for our climate."
Tricia Zunker, who's running against Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany in the 7th Congressional District, also cited the threats the project poses to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in the region.
"We need to ensure clean air, clean water, and that our plants and waterways stay protected for generations to come," said Zunker.
Philomena Kebec, an Ashland County board member and Bad River tribal member, called the DNR's permitting process "as serious as a heart attack." She urged the agency to consider the impact of the project to downstream waters as part of its environmental impact statement.
"In the city of Ashland, our water intake pipe comes from Lake Superior. And, my daughter — I have five kids, and they go swimming in the lake pretty much daily in the summertime," said Kebec. "We depend on a clean and healthy environment, and so this analysis must be done."
Mic Isham, executive administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, raised issued with the timing of the hearing as Enbridge has not yet acquired all the land needed for the project. He also noted the DNR has indicated that it tentatively plans to approve waterway and wetlands permits with modifications.
"This is troubling given that the exact wetlands and waterways have yet to be determined, and there has been no analysis of any impacts on those wetlands and waterways," said Isham.
Enbridge said Wednesday that it had completed waterway and wetlands surveys for 99% of the route.
Isham also said that oil production and transportation is a major driver of climate change, noting tribes are particularly vulnerable to its impacts given their ties to the land and subsistence lifestyle.
Jamie Dunn, a retired DNR hydrogeologist, said the pipeline project follows the recharge zone of a groundwater aquifer that serves a majority of residents living nearby.
"All wells within 1,200 feet need to be documented by Enbridge because those are the wells that are going to be impacted first by a release," said Dunn.
A number of people also said that public comment on the permits closes before adequate information is available to evaluate the project, including Nancy Larson with Wisconsin's Green Fire. The DNR's former northern water program leader said an environmental impact statement for the project should address high-quality habitats and waters and environmental justice aspects, as well as the potential for spills in the region.
Others also testified that they feared the impact of the project would harm the region's tourism industry. But labor unions including the Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association urged the agency to approve permits for the project.
"The relocation of this segment of Line 5 is required to remove the existing pipeline from the Bad River Reservation while continuing to provide safe and efficient transportation of essential energy, including natural gas liquids to Northeast Wisconsin," said Terry Hayden, the association's president.
Hayden said around 2,100 trucks would need to leave Superior daily to transport the products carried by Line 5. Derek Peterson with the Laborers' International Union of North America Local 1091 in Duluth agreed that the pipeline is the safest way to transport oil.
"Not only will it feed the families of the hard-working men and women in the trades, it will also be the safest, most technologically advanced pipeline Enbridge has ever put in the ground," said Peterson. logically advanced pipeline Enbridge has ever put in the ground," said Peterson.
If the project is approved, the company said in its application that it will dig a pipe trench using an excavator or "by blasting rock as necessary" during construction. Waterways are normally isolated from construction activities to prevent any impact to water quality.
Enbridge anticipates horizontal directional drilling would be used to install pipe under sensitive environmental areas although the company said it will work with the DNR on acceptable methods for water crossings.
Residents and environmental groups pointed to the company's history of spills, including one of the nation's largest inland spills near Marshall, Michigan, in July 2010. The rupture cost the company $1.2 billion to clean up 1.2 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River.
Line 5 has had around 30 spills that have released more than 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids on land since 1968, according to federal pipeline safety data obtained by the National Wildlife Federation.
Enbridge hopes to obtain the necessary permits by early next year and begin construction shortly thereafter, which the company expects will last six to eight months.